The Mitchell Family went WEST.
This July our family teamed up with our Aunt Beth, Aunt Carrie, cousin Markie, his wife Ashley and Uncle Mark to journey west by rail for a Montana wedding.
It took 38 hours (est. time was 32 hours) to take the train from Chicago's Union Station (which truth be told is like being in a demilitarized zone), and travel to Whitefish in Northwestern Montana. What they don't tell first time train goers, is that not only does the train usually run behind, but it can be as much as six hours late.
Our adventure by rail would take us from Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota and on across the wide breath of North Dakota, before finally crossing over into Montana. It would be full of big skies, family bonding and a love story.
In my mind, I pictured the train ride being exactly like the movie White Christmas. Wallace and Davis sitting across from the charming Haynes sisters, surrounded with luxurious plush cushions and rich wood accents (Cat pictured the glorious Hogwarts Express).
I thought a conductor would walk down the aisle to punch your tickets, just like in the Polar Express, and I thought a wee British lady would wheel a dolly, chalked full of treats just like in Harry Potter.
Remember in old movies how all the train-stations had platform guards with shiny gold watches who watched the train schedule like a hawk exclaiming, “by God, you can set your watch by it!”
Well, like the old grey mare of old-tyme songs, trains ain't what they used to be. Now trains are ancient, tired monoliths, moving in a stiff and predictable clackity-clack movement. The phrase being stuck in a tin can comes to mind.
Our train was called the Empire Builder, and I am not sure what contributions to the empire it has made, but I am pretty sure it was build in the 1980's, and is about as antiqued as the rotary phone.
What the train lacks in luxury, it more than makes up for with the amazingly friendly and diverse group of people you meet.
There is an observation car that has large windows on all sides, making it a fun place to hangout and people-watch. We met backpackers, swedish honeymooners and dueling accordion players!
Be Task oriented.
In the endurance test that is train travel, it is important to have activities planned. Bringing a book or two isn’t going to cut it.
In addition to books, magazines, and cross word puzzles, make sure to pack a DVD player, and several movies.
And yes there are outlets available at every seat, which makes the charging of electrical devices possible.
You should bring a pillow (or in Cat’s case my shoulder) and blankets. Our people did not opt for a sleeper car so we were in a glorified airplane seats... meaning they are wider, recline slightly more, and have a footrest.
I also recommend bringing your own snacks, water, and for the love of God pack your toothbrush, tooth paste, and facewash in your carry on! In close to 40 hours of traveling, you realize there are new levels of filth a person can achieve.
Taking the train out West was an experience I will never forget and an amazing way to see places in America you don’t get to see when you fly. It also allows for ample dinner conversation for years to come.
Next stop... Whitefish Montana and the Wedding!